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English 2 - Pahomov

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"How Philly Changed Me"

I came to Philadelphia around the age of six from Puerto Rico. At that time my first language was Spanish. So when I walked into kindergarten for the first time the voices around me sounded like “jibber jabber”. “Que es tu nombre?” my American teacher would lean down to ask me very slowly as if I were a child of special needs. She didn`t know much Spanish, but I would try to speak to her as much as I could. She was my only friend. This was because she was the only person I could communicate with all day. I found myself saying little words like “baño” when I would have to use the bathroom. Every time I would say that out loud, the other students would turn around, look at me, and laugh. This was not really a bother to me, until I became more accustomed to standard english. Then I understood why my classmates were laughing at me.

My experience resembled the story told in “Hunger of memories” by Richard Rodriguez. In this short story Mr. Rodriguez speaks about his family living in the United States. Rodriguez is hispanic, and he had to get used to being looked at funny because he did not know much English. Something that really struck me was when he spoke of his first day of kindergarten. “When I first entered a classroom, I was able to understand fifty stray English words” Rodriguez said. It immediately sent me back to my first day of kindergarten. At that point I felt a very strong connection with the author. Being pointed out for not being American was difficult to deal with.

In middle school, it just got worse for me. I already knew English, but since the teacher`s were well aware that I came from Puerto Rico, they though I needed more assistance than the other students. “Edgar, Christian, Cynthia, and Karoline” the esol teacher called out to the students at the doorway of the classroom for our study session.  Esol was a program that helped students from other countries adjust to the American language and the different type of education that we were learning. Once a week she would come to get us and every time I would try to hide from her. The embarrassment never got old, at times I would sit in the back to see if she would not notice me, or would go out to the bathroom around the time I knew she would come. “She`s back there” Mr. Collins would reply to Miss Nelson or “She`ll be here in a minute”. When I would attempt  to skip class. In the study sessions we would practice the meanings of words. For instance, I remember learning “perro is dog” and “libro is book”, things that I already knew. Other students thought we were pretty lucky to miss out on class for an hour or two, but to me it was just a waste of time. “I already know English Miss Nelson” I would try to explain to her as we walked down the hallway to the library. She would respond in Spanish in a loud tone and that would embarrass me even more. “Tienes que practicar todos los dias” she would say in a sarcastic voice. Telling me that I needed to still practice pronunciations. 

In high school,I was more ashamed than embarrassed. However, my moment of realization came in when I started to learn information on NHI. “The following students head to the college office for the National Hispanic Institute” said Mr. Lehman through the loud speaker. “Do I have to go?” I asked Mr. Best my Bio Chemistry teacher, blushing because I had been singled out with these group of students. After he persuaded to me that it was important, I went straight to the college office. When I arrived, we had a meeting on the accomplishments this program created for hispanic students, and all the opportunities available to us. It even offered many scholarships to the students that completed this program. 

After learning about The National Hispanic Institute, it hit me that Spanish was once my first language and technically still is my first language. I`d been so caught up in my new life style that I had forgotten where I came from. Not only did it make me who I am but it also made my family who they are. Our traditions, beliefs, the food we eat, and  the music we listen to all originated in Puerto Rico. Ever since I came to Philadelphia, I become so accustomed to the American culture that I became embarrassed of my own. However, as time goes by I have come to the realization that just because your culture isn`t the same as where you live in currently is not a bad thing. In fact, you stand out from the rest for doing things that are a little different. I`ve gone from embarrassed, to ashamed, and then taking these feelings and becoming proud of where I came from. 

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Code-switching at its best.

    I’ve been told that my language, and body language reminds people of a rap. That makes a lot of sense because I love to rap. It is my passion, and I am constantly rapping. Language for everyone is different, so mines sounds like a rap or song. To me i think my language is based off of code switching. I can switch between a rapper, a ball player, and a person who needs to sound professional.

“You know you speak as if you bout to spit some bars” she said.

I laughed and said “yoo you too funny.”

“Im serious” she says, “you talk like a real rapper.”

I constantly hear that, I heard it from a teacher, from friends, and from associates. My language is only for me, and makes me who I am. I like to rap, and my movement relates to it. My common slang words are “jawn”, “yeah”, “yoo” “outcheaa”, and there are a lot more slang words. Like when playing basketball with friends.

“Yoo pass the ball, you bout to get trapped in the corner” I say.

“Ardd come get it bro” Zach says.

“ Throw the damn ball.” I say.

He passes it, and i go to the basket and score. After I score, and finish the game the people we are playing talk to us.

“ Good game yall” They say.

“We in return say “Yeah, that was a good game, we’ll see yall later. So we can fry yall again”

They say “Ardd watever, yall niggas is slight.”  

     I have lots of things I say, on different occasions. Sometimes I talk like that, but other times you wouldn’t even think those word could come out of my mouth. I know how to talk when I go for jobs and interviews, and I code switch when it calls for code switching. If you compare my basketball language, and my professional side, no words would be similar. I know how I need speak when going for something that calls to be a little more polite, and chill. Like my high school interview. 

“Hello, how do you pronounce your name?”

“You can call me Jaaz, but it’s pronounced as Jaazaniah.”

“Well you would academically benefit this school, but what other things could we look for from you?”

“Well I am a diverse individual, I like to help others, and I am very energetic.”

     Throughout the interview I answered questions. At the end they say “Thank you for coming today.” I say “It was a pleasure to have an interview, and thank you for the opportunity.” That is a form of code switching between a ball player, a rapper and talking for a purpose. 

     I code switch for a reason. I code switch because it is easy you get my point across. It helps me adapt to situations. Like when I rap, i need to use words that would rhyme with each other, and slang words are easy to rhyme. I code switch for basketball, because it is important to be confident. I code switch for interviews because if I came in speaking slang, then I wouldn’t be fitting the part of sounding professional. Code switching can be effective if you use it right.    

     In the story How to tame a wild tongue by Giona Anzaldua, a quote that I relate to is “ My home tongues are the languages I speak with my sister, brothers and friends.” I relate to that quote because it is basically saying that the author code switches when he gets around his friends and family, but when he is at other places he doesn’t use his home language.

     I like the way I talk, and I like the way I code switch effectively. I think that my rap language is appropriate for having fun with friends and things of that sort. I like the way my basketball language is good when I am doing something competitive. I understand that I need to have a way too slow it down, and sound professional. I like the way I speak, and code switching goes along with my language.

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The Change Up

​The Change Up

“You need to go get buckets! It’s all about buckets!” I yelled at Jaaz.

“Haneef I get buckets.” Jaaz replied.

“Yea Yea that’s what they all say, I’ll believe it when I see it.” I responded.

 My friends and I create different meanings to words and use slang, to us what we’re saying makes sense, but to a person who doesn’t know the lingo they’ll probably be confused. This is one of my many “languages”. I speak basketball. There are times when knowing different languages is beneficial, like when trying to understand people different people and there also times where this language is not necessary like in the business world or when speaking to adults where this informal language would not be accepted. Being around a language long enough, it’ll begin to become something you’re accustomed to. Outsiders to any language, like people around you may begin to understand the language and maybe begin to use it themselves. My little sister proved this to me. One day when I waked in the house after one of my basketball games my little sister approached me and she said,


“Were you frying today??”

 “Pause, do you even know what frying is?” I responded

“No Haneef.” She said in a sarcastic tone and smirk on her face

“Don’t get smart with me little girl!” I yelled “ And how do you even know what frying is? Where did you learn this, because I know I didn’t teach it to you.”

“I may be six, but I not slow. I heard you nd your friends say it so many times that I jus figured it out.” She said.

“Ehhh whatever I’m going to my room.”

In the book, From the Borderlands, by Glona Anzonldína it was said that,

“Some of the languages we speak are:

1. Standard English

2. Working class and slang English

3. Standard Spanish

4. Standard Mexican Spanish

5. North Mexican Spanish dialect

6. Chicano Spanish (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California have regional variations)

7. Tex Mex

8. Pachuco (called caló)”

 All of the languages mentioned in the small passage above were learned by first being around them due to the family’s constant movement. Each language learned was the norm of that environment and was imperative to learn in order to succeed in that environment. One of my many languages is the one I use when with my friends. This language sounds completely different than with my parents or at a job interview. It’s code switching. This code switching is necessary in order to be respectful, succeed in the business world, and to hold a good reputation with elders; i.e. teachers and other adults. When speaking with my friends I don’t tend to use “proper English”, mostly because I don’t have to and also because different environments require different things in order to be successful.

A perfect example of this is probably is in the person reading this essay, just think. When with your parents think about how you act compared to when you’re with your friends, and then compare both of those to the you act when with your coworkers or classmates and boss or any figure authority. Slang is something that I grew up around, and so it came naturally. Now that I’m older, in different situations I am able to talk “proper” in order to do what society thinks it the right. Whereas in an informal environment it’s the complete opposite, I can speak “improper” without any consequences.  

Everybody is raised in a different environment than the next. I’m proud of the way I was raised. The area I grew up in may have effect my “language”. But due to societies need for perfection, my language or what society would call a flaw is hidden under the mask of the persona I use in order to succeed in this world. This is Code switching. Everyone does it; whether it’s to try to succeed in this world by doing what society say is good. Or in interest of being respectful to elders because maybe the way you interact with your friends is not acceptable around adults. Either way, code switching is necessary for any person who believes they want to succeed in more than one environment during their adolescent and adult lives. But when code switching the world will never see the real you. So the choice is for you to make. Either code switch to have a chance to make something of your life in this world, or be yourself in every environment, rebel against the norms of society with the risk of not becoming successful in life.

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“What are you doing after school tomorrow? Walk me to Liberty Place, please?” I asked my friend one time over video chat.

“Nothing really, but that’s a hike... why?” she answered.

“I know but I need something from there. Pleeeaaasseee? I love you.”

“Nigga... whatchu gotta get?”

“I dunno but I need a gift for my cousin.”

“We don’t got time for that...”

“We do! You just said you weren’t freakin’ doing anything! We can take the trolley.”

“I gueeesssss,” she said, shifting a little.

Right after that, my dad knocked on my door and opened it without me even saying he could come in. When he smiled, I could already tell what he was about to say. It was the typical small talk we had every day.

“Hi Nia,” he said.

“Hey Dad.”

“How was your day?” he asked.


“How are you?”


“You sure?”


“Well, okay then.” He left my room, and I could then finish talking to my friend.

“Ard, I kinda gotta go, stuff to do...”

“Okay, bye,” she smiled and ended the chat.

It was never as easy as that to code switch like that until I hit high school. Filtering curse words and slang just clicks with me now. Quite frankly, being able to talk with other people in what seems to be the most comfortable way for them provides lots of opportunity for me. Before high school in seventh and eighth grade, I went to Friends Select, a private school where mostly everyone was white. Going there straight from a 99.8 percent black school was like putting a drop of oil into a tub of water. I had a quick and easy adjustment, because I never had a very “thick black” accent. By this, I mean I knew what times were appropriate to let all the slang out in the world, and then when to say “like” more than five times in a six-word sentence.

What I did not know was that my tone and usage of words drastically changed in my seventh and eighth grade years. Family noticed, and even told me on the spot that I was “starting to sound like a lil’ white girl.” I’m still told to this day that my cousin and I “just aren’t black.” We usually rolled with it, and took it as a term of endearment that we were, and are, a little different. People at camp told me that I “talked so proper” and I responded with something along the lines of “that’s just how I speak.” But, for me, my newly developed “language” brought more than just words, it brought more conversations. 

“Hey!” one of my friends said.

“Hey, how’s it going? How’s life?” I asked them.

“Tis good, you?”.

“Pretty okay, as usual. What’d you do this weekend?”

“Nothing really, sleep and some homework... you?”

“Same, nothing special... Fuck, I need a life.”

Even when it is not talking with parents and then friends, my use of words still tends to change between people I speak with. In a way, I believe that happens with everyone, to a certain extent. For example, because one person and their friend have spent more time with each other than that person and another friend have spent, the first pair might converse with more ease and flow than the second pair, because there is more to talk about—family, life, old memories, inside jokes, and all that. For me, there is a mixture of length of friendship and also the person’s personality, if I know their personality. Usually it takes a conversation or two to click with the words and tone of voice I want to use with a specific associate, friend, or group of friends. 

When I talk to someone for the very first time, I almost want them to make all the conversation and I just listen. Sometimes, silence can be the best language to go with, because it communicates signals as much as words are able to. However, when trying to make a new friend or just cheer up someone and most of the talking belongs to me, it was best to just go with my gut on a more “standard English plus a bit of slang” tone, and develop the chat with more important things that might want that person to talk to me again. 

It will take more than one time to find that conversation zen, and when it is found, it is marvelous. It all depends on the person and your own personality. However, efforts to make conversation zen happen continue if I decide to talk to that person again, which is almost definite I will. Sometimes a choice of words makes or breaks any talk. Something happens, whether it be a miscommunication or vocabulary differences. And so, there are those times where a discussion does not go so well for me. In a group of friends that was not mine, I felt like Maxine Hong Kingston did in her passage, “Tongue Tied”. She said, “It spoils my day with self-disgust when I hear my broken voice come skittering out into the open. It makes people wince to hear it.” Perhaps my struggles with finding the right words to say did not go as far as people wincing to hear it, but there definitely have been awkward moments when I’ve said something wrong and it just did not have a place to be justified. In those moments I may feel like quitting at a social life altogether. But, the important part was actually to keep trying at it, because sometimes a lack of knowledge of a certain language can make someone feel uncomfortable. It might not even be you, it could always be the person you are speaking with instead. Learn their language and way of words instead sometimes.

For me, doing just that has created so much social gain. Learning and using the languages and dialects of others widens the gates of communication for anyone. Being able to switch from tongue to tongue without getting “tongue tied” gets more of your ideas to more people, and if you have big ideas for the world, being able to code switch and use totally different languages altogether is very beneficial. For me, my social life continues to develop more than it has in middle school. Since then I have gained confidence and comfort with my speech. It’s a gift to be “cool” with everyone, even if it was just a single word or thought.

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Sweet Talk'n

I sit uncomfortably, my ankles crossed beneath the table, the silk napkin placed carefully over my lap. I keep my legs close together, being sure to tuck the hem of my dress over my knee. 

“Pass the suga’, da’lin.” I hear a sweet coo in my right ear, and turn to smile at my great-aunt. Keeping my lips pressed shut, I reached over and slid the sugar towards her. All around me were the echoes of ‘sweetie’, ‘my gracious!’, and ‘pardon?’. My skin feels hot, and I hear another question aimed in my direction. Passing over the butter this time, I gratefully busy myself with taking sips of my tea. The brightly colored walls are a shock to my system, as are the friendly people sitting at the table next to ours, calling out greetings to complete strangers. The words swirl around me, and I become suddenly aware of how I don’t often call people “darling”, and how I do talk rather quickly. 

“Emalyn, didn’t you go there this summer?” My Nana’s voice is interrupting my sudden realization, and I startle a little bit. But, remembering my formal setting, settle down. 

“Oh, um, yeah. Yes. Yes ma’am.” I stutter, tripping over the words as they come out in a flood of miscommunication. Flustered, I choke up a laugh, ducking my head. “Yes ma’am, I did.” I try again, and the southern ladies around the table nodded. It’s never easy to be the only one in a room that’s different, and it’s even harder when you are distinctly aware that those around you know exactly what makes you different. 

Sitting around the table at a tea room is not something that I often do in my daily routine. However, when I did, I became aware of small things that made me irreversibly different than the women surrounding me. When I responded to their questions, my voice sounded brash, my words sounded rude, in comparison to the slow, drawn out language of Northern Georgia. No matter how many times I go down South, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to being the only one in the room who is decidedly Northern. I will also not get used to having to wait patiently as my questions get answered, in a typical drawn out fashion, or being the subject of so many terms of endearment. 

I may have felt out of place in a southern tea room, but feeling different because of an accent is not limited to Northerners going South. My Grandparents come up to visit once a year, around Christmas. Although they would never come out and say it, they are incredibly uncomfortable speaking in front of people, and tend to keep to themselves when faced with the opportunity. Their accents are heavy, and the southern drawl sets them apart from everyone they’re surrounded with. With every word they say, people scrunch up their noses, ask them to repeat themselves, or look mildly amused. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, when people are listening intently to your every word, trying to decipher what you’re saying. 

James Baldwin says this about language in his essay ‘If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?’: “It reveals the private identity and connects one with, or divorces one from, the large, public, or communal identity.” In this case, I think that language isolates those who are different, and calls them out on those differences. 

More than once, I have heard people talking about Southern accents in a negative light. People have said that they can’t take them seriously, or that they just sound foolish when they speak. To me, the ones saying those things are more foolish simply for saying that. To judge someone’s intelligence based on how they sound, and not on what they say, shows an extreme lack of character. It is absolutely unacceptable for people to say that someone is inferior to them because of race or gender in today’s society, so why is accent any different? Just like gender and race, accents alienate one person from another, and focus on differences, instead of similarities. 

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Unspoken Accents: Micah Getz

Unspoken Accents

Accents are the constantly changing linguistic frontier. I have yet to discover if I have one, or to explore where it would have come from. I think I’m in slight denial about that. However there’s something I’m rather sure makes me relatively unique: my ever-present love of reading. While reading didn’t give me an accent, it became both a boon and a bane for me: an extensive vocabulary, but no experience using it with others.
Though I developed excellent grammar and a superb vocabulary, using words that few others knew didn’t benefit conversation, partly because nobody I knew used or said it. However, that wasn’t my main issue (though it was a rather large point in social development). My main issue was pronunciation. Reading hadn’t given me an accent, it had given me an arsenal of words that I could read and write, but never correctly say.
For example, I’d say the word ‘peon’ when trying to say something intellectually, like “So they’re rather like the medieval peons.” Even though I knew I was talking to someone who I knew the word, I still couldn’t get them to understand me until I described it, and there I learned my issue. I said “Pay-own”, which makes more sense than other ways I thought it could be pronounced, except I was wrong. It actually was pronounced “Pee-on”, which makes less sense. After all, why intentionally bring up peeing on someone?
There were, of course, other issues. In similar embarrassing discussions in the middle of class I would proudly flaunt a high-class word “Zealot”, and then in a public rebuttal by a teacher learn that I had said, “Zeal Lot,” when it should be, “Zell Ot,” with the O sounding the same as the O from the word Oz. My word made more sense, because why should I change the sound of the word zeal just because of the three extra letters after it? To which the reply would be that it’s just how the language worked, and that the teacher wasn’t giving a rebuttal but speaking to the contrary.
I was cool with just reading though. In books you don’t have the issue of pronunciation, of trying to pronounce intentionally bizarre words such as “Thu’um”. If you are unlikely enough to say any word you read from a fiction novel aloud, you will hear an instant cry of
“Militia is ‘Milisha’, not ‘Millet-iya’” or "Pseudodragon is ‘Sudo Dragon’, not ‘Swayed-o Dragon’”
I liked reading, even with the word issues. It was the place I felt I belonged, and since there were no accents, there were no dialects, and there was no dreaded pronunciation, that I belonged there linguistically. I had, as James Baldwin wrote in If Black English Isn’t a Language, What Is?, “The price for this is acceptance and achievement of one's temporal identity. I empathize with it in that I had accepted who I am, what I spoke, and what it made me. Which was completely fine, and for a time I rejoiced in the fact that I had an understanding of a world where the way you talk, or look, or your age, or your class, wouldn’t taint your first response.
Then I realized that reading still had the same common signs that speaking often had. There are still ways to tell who you are from the way you write. From the amount of speaking that’s written compared to the descriptions, the times character development happens, you can tell who is writing the story. The times when people interact, whether they act slowly and realistically, whether they just don’t quote them and put them all in paragraph form, or whether they take an intentionally macabre look on the normal; all of these are like little fingerprints that the writers left on it, tiny pieces of themselves that they copy down which show who they are. An easy example for this is this paper, where I rarely show people talking, and instead tried to engage my reader by intentionally psychoanalyzing myself. If you read this paper closely, you’ll even notice how instead of saying him or her, I use the word “they” as an androgynous term, which you can make all sort of strange assumptions about. This overly in-depth reading into texts is possible anywhere.  
Take for example, the writings of the authors Terry Pratchett and Robert Jordans. Both are authors of thousands of pages of literary material, except that they both have different ideas of what they needed to write, as well as the recognition afforded them. Terry Pratchett wrote mostly on fantasy, with dabbling in Sci-Fi and horror, but Robert Jordan wrote on many things, ranging from dancing, to historical fiction, to epic fantasy. The difference in their experience as authors also flavored the way they wrote. Terry Pratchett's way of writing would be best shown by the book Maskerade. “She was light enough on her feet but the inertia of outlying parts meant that bits of Agnes were still trying to work out which direction to face for some time afterwards.”  Two pages later, he writes, “Nanny Ogg thought about Agnes. You needed quite big thoughts to fit all of Agnes in.” He barely references it in these quotes, but what he’s generally trying to build is the idea of Agnes as a fat person in your mind, while having all of the characters act too politely to say it. He alludes to things but rarely actually says it, expecting his readers to be smart enough to figure it out.
Robert Jordan writes in a completely different way. When he introduces characters he waxes poetic on everything to do with them, while still managing to include the character's own opinions. This happens every time anything is introduced, be it a chapter, a place, or a character, but one such time is in the novel New Spring on page 117  “A tall slim women, Kerene looked exactly what she was, her ageless face strong and beautiful, her nearly black eyes pools of serenity. Even here, she wore a riding dress, the divided skirts slashed with emerald green, and her dark hair, lightly touched with white, was cut shorter than either Karile’s or Stepen’s, above her shoulder and into a braid.” He continues of course, not letting himself be limited with constraints such as word limits. The details are entrancing, and they make me realize about the times he must have written of dance, and the amazing detail he must have been used to writing. He writes in an amazingly realistic world of braided hair and divided skirts, reminiscent of his experience writing historical fiction. He writes in detail, because he expects his readers to read it as much for the details as the plot, the world, the characters, and everything else he writes so well. This is completely different to the funny, sarcastic, and intentionally unrealistic way that Terry Pratchett writes of things, such as dwarven flatbread that’s so hard that is has been known, in times of dire need, to stop being used as a weapon, and to actually be eaten.
Which made me realize that I might be wrong. Books have accents, if you know what you’re looking for, even as voices do. They reveal who you are, and where you’ve been, what things you’ve written, who you’ve talked to. Whether you choose to judge someone by that has more to do with your opinion than how they are talking, or as, it turns out, writing. The important part is being understood and conveying your meaning. Why else was language made?

Pratchett, Terry. Maskerade. London: Victor Gollancz, 1995. Print.

Jordan, Robert. New Spring the Novel. Vol. Prelude. N.p.: Bandersnatch Group, 2004. Print. Wheel Of Time.
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Lost Identity

Lost Identity

When I was a little girl, I only remember my mother having been extremely controlling. We were hers and if we didn’t do as she said, we had broken a law, no matter how minuscule it might have been. There was no room for our opinions. Even in my education. She would have wanted me to be smarter. There wasn’t time for me to become better at my writing, I simply should have just been able to do it. There wasn’t anything natural about writing for me. 

She took my papers. She took them and crumpled them up. All my hard work. I was 10 years old. She didn’t think I was smart enough to write a decent paper. 

“Give me the fact list that you have on the woman,” my mother demanded. 

She wrote the entire paper. I could barely read her handwriting but she made me rewrite everything she did and turn it in as my own. I wasn’t allowed to voice my opinion. It wasn’t right, I knew that when I turned it in, but she would be upset with me if I didn’t do as she said. She was the boss.

I was always afraid when turning in my papers. They weren’t mine. I was little, and didn’t really care how intelligent they sounded, as long as I felt honest. The guilt of dishonesty that never went away. With the lies you must tell to please your parents. 

Getting sick didn’t end her tyranny. It was all that kept her from “being hyperaware of the pain.” My mistakes in language kept her mind moving. She thought that the idea of intertwining her expectations into mine would be helpful to me.

As this process continued I realized that what she was doing was beneficial to only her. My mother was living through me. I knew nothing different and so I simply went along. You don’t say no to a parent who is losing hair and is nauseous all day, every day. 

The constant revision of my papers did not end. Her sickness progressed and made her interest in my education dissipate. She was forced into not overseeing and reading all of my work before it was turned in. She got too sick to know I existed.

One of the main points from the essay “How to Tame A Wild Tongue” by Gloria Anzaldía. “So, if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity- I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself.” Language is the representation of experience, ethnicity, and family, all together to create the final melody. A perfect combination of sounds and a back story, that can all become known from a few simple words.

If language is your identity, who are we until we find our own? My identity was lost. As if mine were the clone of my mothers.

“A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him. And a child cannot afford to be fooled.” This quote, taken from James Baldwin’s essay, “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me What Is?” This states that any teacher who in fact dislikes children will not teach the child effectively. I connected this to my own experience because I learned from my brothers about the world and language. Much to their dismay. They saw I would never be taught by my mother who had taken the time to teach them. They must have been loved in a different way. I only learned from my own mistakes, and those of my siblings, when chastised for misuse of language.

I was forced to whine into a jar when I was young. I complained often I guess, but when I did, everything was gibberish. Nobody wants to hear words they can’t comprehend. The jar stayed on the kitchen counter until I was seven and a half years old. The way I spoke disgusted my family.

While my mother was sick, she ran a blog. She hated the term, so it was simply, her online journal. She began it the day after she was diagnosed. Wanting to be able to tell her story in the beautiful way that she knew how. Her writing was her everything. She touched people across the country. They read every post she ever wrote. So many people that didn’t know anything about us except what she wrote. I was 9 years old when her news crushed me. This was when I learned what a story could do. A person’s words were power. They moved mountains and could touch the heart of another without a physical contact needed. Even in Layman’s terms, her words sounded so honest. Despite the cliché, I find their overuse, very powerful and truthful.

“Dying is very inconvenient,” she wrote. Three days before her death, she knew it was coming. It isn’t about whether the language “intersects” with identity or not, but rather your identity is kept locked in your mind and soul. The only key to open it is your language. Whether writing the truest of true, or speaking, it’s poetry. She apologized to the people she never met, for leaving them. Her parting words made strangers burst into tears. Her story was public. But it was also over.

Language in my experience, is the power that kept my mother alive for longer than a year. It encouraged prayers from coast to coast. And it kept her mine for a little while longer, even if I believed she wanted to leave me. Language is identity. It also creates connection, whether healthy or not, the power of language is something to be worked on, not cloned.

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Understand Me

Understand Me

It’s not easy being thrown into a situation where all of a sudden, you cannot comprehend anything. You are submerged into a new environment, a new culture, and a new language, and you are completely lost.

My whole life, I had constantly been in an English-speaking environment. Even if every person has their own American accent, I had been able to understand and converse with them. I had always been ordinary—speaking the native language and such. I’d always fit in, always blended into the normality of my surroundings.

All of a sudden, I was on the outside. The core thing that was needed to communicate, common language, was something that I did not share with the Nicaraguans around me.

I looked to my left into the face of a young child. “Por favor, señorita, ¿tiene dinero?” he begged. I shook my head numbly, unable to comprehend the words to explain to this poor boy that I was not allowed to provide him with money. I kept walking.

A man began shouting at me from my right, speaking so fast that I had no way to even get an idea of what he was saying to me. He kept repeating it, and he began to sound irritated.

“¿Por qué se mueven tan lento, poco chica blanca!” he said rapidly.

“I’m sor—lo siento, señor. I’m from America y no hablo ingles,” I said to him very slowly, in the best accent that I could muster.

“Chica estúpida. Tú no hablas español?”

“Lo siento, pero I have no idea what you are saying,” I replied.

“Me acaba de entregar su bolsa, ¿de acuerdo?”


“¡Tu bulsa!” he shouted angrily, motioning to my bag.

“Oh, here. Sorry.” I said as I handed it to him and he put it on the bus.

“Americanos tontos…” he muttered, walking away.

All of a sudden, I was different. I stood out. I didn’t speak the language, and therefore, I felt like I didn’t belong. I was an outsider.

Feeling completely lost in terms of language was a new feeling to me. In my house and school, I spoke English. Everywhere I went, I spoke English with those around me and could communicate easily. I never felt on the outside because I spoke a different language than everyone else.

Not only did I speak English everywhere, I have always been confident in the way that I speak English. I never had a lisp or a stutter. I can formulate sentences and express my thoughts accurately and thoroughly. I speak properly to teachers, my family and my friends. I speak what is defined as “standard English”.

And suddenly, it’s like that was all tossed in the trash. I could not formulate Spanish sentences or think of the right words to express how I was feeling. When I did speak, it was slow, with lots of stops and starts. It was anything but smooth, and it was anything but what I was used to.  In “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” by James Baldwin, he writes, “Language, incontestably, reveals the speaker.” I found this to be very true through my experience. My lack of fluidity of the Spanish language revealed something about me—I was a “gringo”.

At this point in time, I spoke very little Spanish and could not follow a normal conversation. In an essay entitled “Hunger of Memory” by Richard Rodriguez, he writes, “My words could not stretch far enough to form complete thoughts. And the words I did speak I didn’t know well enough to make into distinct sounds.” To me, this quote is extremely relevant and describes how I was feeling in Nicaragua. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but I did not have the vocabulary to put it into complete sentences. I could not convey my point, and that was beyond frustrating to me.

After I was in Nicaragua for a couple days, I began to think about the experiences that I had with native Spanish speakers. When I was unable to understand them, I felt embarrassed. I felt like I stood out. I felt like I didn’t belong there because I could not communicate with those around me.

In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”, author Gloria Anzalía writes, “There are more subtle ways that we internalize identification, especially in the forms of images and emotions.” From my experience in Nicaragua, I could not agree more with this statement.

There are so many ways to communicate in this world without ever speaking a word. Sometimes, you can gain a deep understanding with someone by simply sharing an experience with them. Sometimes it’s not even a word. It can be eye contact. Or it could be a smile. A nod. Language is one of the many ways that you can communicate with other humans, but sometimes you create more special bonds when no words are spoken at all.

By the time I boarded the plane back home from Nicaragua, I was at peace with the fact that the entire week, I was seen as an outsider. While there, I realized that even though I did not speak the same language as them, we shared experiences and feelings that bonded us in a way language never could.


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Chameleon Language

Kenyatta Bundy Jr


Chameleon Language  


“Yo wassup?’ I say to one of my friends as he walks over to me.

“Wassup OG Yatta, you chillin?” He replies in his normal jargon.

“Chill don’t call me “OG Yatta” though.” I say in an intimidating tone.

“Ard my bad bro.” He replies quickly.

“You chillin yo, but I’m bout to dip off with my girl.”

“Oh true, where yall goin’?’ he asks

“Don’t worry bout it young. Sike naw we just bout to go get something it eat real quick.”

“Oh you right. How are yall? I don’t never see yall together no more yo.”

“Yea I know, cause we hardly ever get a chance to chill together anymore. My mom be

drawlin as usual, so I never leave the house to see her or whatever, and since we don’t got the same lunch or nuffin, we hardly ever chill. Shit be drawlin forreal!” I reply somewhat angrily.

“Yo chill YMCMB Yatta. You snappin forreal.” He says quickly.

“I know yo, it’s just annoyin forreal. And chill with the YMCMB Yatta shit for I get ya girl on you.” I reply.

“ Ard chill she ain’t bout that life though. She not about to mix me though.”

“I mean I guess, let me see you say that to her though. Watch you fold yo.” I say jokingly.

“Naa I ain’t bout to fold though.” He says.

“Watch yo she gonna treat you just like Aateeyah used to.  She gonna have you on the floor cryin n shit.” I joke.


“Ard that’s dead like gingerbread.” He says.

I reply with a simple, “Fuck outta here Jaaz you not tough yo. You really boutta fold like that fat bull in that World Star video.”

He chuckles as we walk away.



If you're not from Philadelphia, or a teenager between the ages of 13 and 19 you probably have no clue what is being said by the people in this scene. Well those people are my friend Jaaz and I. That person is the most natural side of me, and the side you would see if you were with me in my everyday life. But it's not just me. As time has passed, I have begun to adapt my speech based on the people I am most often around, and these people happen to be my closest schoolmates and friends. This as defined by James Baldwin would be me keeping up with my heritage and not "disowning" my African roots. But this is not how I speak in every single situation. Like the chameleon, I am able to adapt to a few different surroundings. Although I only fluently speak one language, I often like to look at myself as multilingual in the fact that I am able to speak with different dialects than just my original.

By James Baldwin’s' example, I believe I would be somewhere in between and I am okay with that. The ability to change my dialect with my surroundings in order to fit in and be comfortable should not be going "against my origin". If African Americans did what he thought was right with language, I believe we would be even more suppressed and discriminated against than we already are. It is this ability that allows us to succeed in society, and slowly begin to level the playing fields with race. Ignorance gives you no power now a days and not being able to speak to different people in different ways would be purely ignorant. The way that I speak is a reflection of not only where I come from, but also the intelligence that I also master.


“Hello Kenyatta, I am Mr. Johnson and I will be the person in charge of interviewing you today. How are you doing this morning?”
“I’m great, thank you. I would just like to start by saying that this is an honor to even be considered to be a member of this prestige academic society.” I reply politely.

“ It’s our honor. Okay now let’s get right into this so this can be as quick and painless as possible. So the first question for today is simply; what do you plan on pursuing as a career, and how do you believe you attending the Temple University Medical Summer Enrichment program will help you achieve these goals?” he asked.

“Well Mr. Johnson, from as long as I can remember I have had the desire to be a doctor, it was just the matter of what type of doctor I wanted to be that was the question. When I hit the age of 14 I knew that I wanted to either be a doctor that associated with the heart, or the brain. It wasn’t until I hit 16 and my grandfather passed away from a heart attack that I decided that I wanted to become a cardiovascular surgeon, or heart surgeon. So I believe that attending this summer program would not only give me some type of insight into what it is that I decided that I want to do with my life, but also would give me an opportunity to meet new people with the same interests as me as well as being able to make many associates that could potentially help me if needed in the long run. I’m sorry I began rambling, but yes I believe that wraps it up in a nutshell.” I reply.

“No it is no problem. I love meeting people with a true interest in the medical field, especially people who are as seemingly as passionate as you seem to be. Ok now for the next question...” He continues.


            From what you just read you would most likely believe that this person is a totally different person, from a totally different place, and in no way the same person as in the original scene but you would be incorrect. As said before, it is very much possible for a person to speak one dialect around a group of people, and a totally different one around others.  This was just one example of this, and can be demonstrated in a number of other ways. But I hope this was able to give you a new understanding of some people, and you will think differently when you see a group of loud, and seemingly rude group of people and begin to think about how uneducated they must be, because looks can be fooling.


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Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

“AAaaaAAaHHhhh Max, you have been growing so much since th th the last time I have seen you!” 

Who this woman was, I did not really know. I was given the basic information on the drive up to New York by my Dad. We were meeting his aunt who is in town from Israel and staying at his second cousin’s house in Midtown. That was all the information I was given. Whenever I’m thrown with the obligatory, “oh you’ve grown up so much blah blah blah,” I usually just uncomfortably smile and say something meaningless like, “Oh, uh, it’s great to see you too!” Unbeknownst to me, the people I was meeting saw right through my attempt at politeness and became (strangely) upset. 

“What... you do not remember me? Do you not care about me or your family?!” 

My father’s aunt aggressively spurted this jewel out in my general direction when I met her for the first time last year. This is what I get confronted with from my extended family members. 

Sometimes when I speak, people mistake what I say for sarcasm. I’m only being sarcastic like 70% of the time. That’s a joke. You laugh now. Many people tell me that my voice just always sounds like I’m being sarcastic and condescending but honestly, I don’t mean it to be. It’s just the way I speak. Yes, I realize that sometimes the tone of my voice can give whatever I’m saying a bad connotation but it usually isn’t on purpose. It’s the difference between a “Yeah!” and a “yeah.”  The people close to me have been able to adapt and understand when I’m being sarcastic or not but people that I don’t know very well usually hate me for it. Especially if they don’t speak English very well. 

My Dad’s family was originally from Morocco and when Morocco gained it’s independence many jews thought that the rest of the non-Jewish population would start religiously persecuting them. My Dad’s family decided to move away from their home. For the most part they went to three different places; the wealthy ones went to live in France, the middle class members of the family made the journey to Canada, and the more adventurous and, well, poor ones made the move to Israel. My Dad’s parents were part of the group that moved to Canada, making him a first generation Canadian citizen. Almost all of his family members speak French and Hebrew. Those are the common languages that connect everyone. 

Because of the family splitting up, I know very few of my paternal relatives. My Dad has many relatives that live in Montreal and the surrounding areas but close to none of them speak distinguishable English. They all speak French and through just being around them I’ve learned a few words but I have nothing close to what people would call conversational skills. Many of the older people in my family have a more traditional French accent and I’m able to catch a few words every now and then. The younger generations, like the people between me and my Dad have a much stronger Québécois accent. In my professional opinion, it just sounds like a grosser, more sloppy version of traditional French. I cannot understand the Quebec French for my life. 

In the essay If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me What Is? James Baldwin claims that, “one may speak the same language, but in such a way that one’s antecedents are revealed, or (one hopes) hidden.” If an average French person from, say, Paris, were to hear any of my Israeli or Moroccan relatives speak French they would probably subconsciously begin to judge them. Generally, French speakers from France tend to look down on those with dialects from any African country or even the Canadian dialect. Hearing me attempt to speak French, any posh Frenchman would assume that I’m just an uneducated American snob. They would never think that I came from a long line of French speakers. I think Mr. Baldwin is trying to tell us that the way you speak directly causes you to be stereotyped. 

Every time I see my grandmother she greets me with, “Bonjour mon cheri! Blah blah blah uh huh huh!” That’s my poor interpretation of her proceeding to speak French to me. I always reply with, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Once she realizes that I haven’t learned French since the last time I saw her she’ll say something like,

 “So, uh uh uh, m m max how is your schooling? Are you doctor yet?” They aren’t stereotypically Jewish in most ways but they pretty much define the stereotype that every Jewish parent/grandparent wants their child to be a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. When I reply to her I’m usually trying to be sarcastic so I’ll say something like, “No, I failed out of school a month ago.” This kind of thing never goes over well with her because of the language barrier and her inability to understand comedic genius. Anyone that knows me would have been able to tell by the inflection in my voice that I wasn’t serious about failing out of school. This misunderstanding is partly my fault because I know her English isn’t that great but, I mean, she’s been living in an predominantly English speaking country for about 50 years and she hasn’t picked up anything other than the basics. 

Since my family lives all over the world, they’re dialect for some of the common languages can make it seem like they might as well be speaking whatever distant language they also speak. This makes it difficult for me to understand whats going on when I’m around them. On the other end, they don’t understand the way I speak very well so it’s kind of a lose-lose situation for us all. My Dad’s family thinks I have a stupid American accent. Lots of the ones that speak decent English usually avoid talking to me because I guess they can’t handle hearing how I speak. But it’s a fair trade off because speaking slow enough for them to understand can be straining after a while. 

Seeing that side of my family always makes me feel like an outsider. I have a feeling I always will feel like an outsider until I take the time to learn every language my entire family speaks. Even then I’ll probably still have the feeling because of the culture gap. Knowing myself, I’ll most likely waste the time I could be using to learn French or Hebrew by like, reading about useless things on Wikipedia or something. My point is that even though we share a blood line, it means nothing with no communication. And it’s made even worse with massive amounts of sarcasm induced misunderstandings. 

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